The past few games and specifically this game has made me feel like I am watching the Bizarro Devils. Unfamiliar with Bizarro? He is a super villian in the DC Comic Book Universe that is the exact opposite of his arch-nemisis Superman. Instead of heat vision, he has freeze vision, and he speaks backwards. Basically he's an evil doppelganger of Superman.
The Devils I have watched for the past few games are the complete opposite to their first half counterparts. (Hmmm. Maybe the team that played in the first half of the year were the Bizarro Devils?) Defensive responsibility by the forwards, quick rebound clears by the defense, physical play, capitalizing on poor goaltenders, having a big call go their way, I feel like it's a different team out there.
For the 3rd time in four games the Devils were winners. With five goals from different players, the Devils beat the New York Islanders 5-2 in an afternoon game at Nassau Coliseum. The big news before the game was that Mattias Tedenby would be inserted into the lineup with Adam Mair being a healthy scratch. With Tedenby adding a spark to the lineup after his return from healthy scratch exile the Devils quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead, scared the heck out of us when the Islanders closed the gap to 3-2 in the second period, but quickly recovered to push the lead to 5-2. Adding to the Bizarro feel of the game, this afternoon also featured a goal by Rod Pelley and two points by Mark Fraser.
While Tedenby did bring a spark to the game, the highlight of the game for me was seeing the hard working Vladimir Zharkov score his first goal. After so many opportunities to score thatwerethisclose I was happy to see him celebrate his first goal. I expect it to be the first of many for Zharky. If Zharkov scoring a goal doesn't make my case on the Bizarro Devils, I don't know what will.
It wasn't a great effort, but a good one. There was sloppy play. There was Fraser attempting to give back the lead by himself and invite Anssi Salmela back into the lineup. There were about 3-4 botched two-on-one efforts.
Surprisingly enough the Devils are getting past their mistakes and are able to win (or get a point in) games in which they haven't played their best, which is something that wouldn't have happened in November or December. Under head coach Jacques Lemaire this team has quickly become one that is watchable and competitive, and as fans that is all you can ask for sometimes.
After the jump I recap some of the action from today's win, add some additional thoughts, hand out my game grades and link to the video highlights via NHL.com.
In the preview for this game John highlighted a few areas one of which was for the Devils to get off to a good start. Two goals before the first TV timeout? Mission Accomplished. With Vladimir Zharkov's first NHL goal (after 63 shots) and a Kovalchukian goal on the power play, the Devils rushed out to a 2-0 lead over the Islanders. While Zharkov's goal was largely the result of great work by Mattias Tedenby, and it was more of a two-handed judo chop than an actual shot it was well-deserved.
Even before the goal a booming hit by Anton Volchenkov (who returned to the game after being out due to the death of his father) helped set the tone for the early play. After the two early goals the Devils didn't let up. They were intense, involving themselves in two fights (Mark Fraser schooling Konopka and Clarkson taking a 10-9 decision over Martin) and dominating the offensive zone play.
All four lines were effective in this regard, but the Tedenby-Arnott-Zharkov line stood out to me. Arnott's 4 for 4 on faceoffs certainly helped their puck possession in the first period. The Devils outshot the Islanders at even strength (10-4) and closed out the first period on the power play looking to build on their 2-0 lead.
Martin Brodeur made all the saves he should make, including stoning Josh Bailey while the Devils were on the second penalty kill. Special teams played extremely well killing off two penalties and going 1 for 2 on the power play. Ice time was evenly distributed throughout the lineup with the exception of Nick Palmieri who only was on the ice for 1:46. Tedenby received almost 4 minutes in his first period back from a 6 game absence.
During the first period the Devils were called for a too many men on the ice penalty which (according to Tom Gulitti) was the result of Mattias Tedenby jumping onto the ice too early. So, like many of the commenters in the gamethread, I wondered if Tedenby would now enter coach Jacques Lemaire's doghouse. I thought Tedenby might have missed a shift or two after the penalty had expired, but he was clearly noticeable on the ice a few moments later. Skating around the entire Islanders offensive zone, he faked a shot from the slot area and skated in on Poulin to score off his backhand.
But just when you thought the Devils had taken a commanding lead the Islanders came back with two quick goals :54 seconds apart. The first goal was scored by PA Parenteau after Blake Comeau got past an attempted check from Mark Fraser leaving Henrik Tallinder alone against three Islanders. I am sure many will blame Tallinder for this goal against, but there wasn't anything he could have done. Comeau hit PA Parenteau with a nice pass and he tipped it home for the first goal. The second goal resulted from Michael Grabner's stick as he got behind Mark Fraser and took a pass from Josh Bailey that went through Fraser's legs and Grabner was able to slip it in between Brodeur's pads. That minute of play will not be on Mark Fraser's highlight reel anytime soon.
Thankfully Jacques Lemaire quickly called a timeout to settle the troops down. After that? The Devils, totally unlike themselves, responded with two goals of their own. Despite his highlight reel goal, Tedenby only received roughly 2:45 in ice time in the second period. Fraser, on a mission after being involved with two goals against, tossed Tavares around and was aggressive in the offensive zone taking a point shot that was low enough to generate a great rebound opportunity for Rod Pelley to poke the puck past Poulin. Then :53 seconds later the Devils scored to stretch the lead to 5-2. On a 3 and 2 break with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, Brian Rolston took a shot that Poulin couldn't hold onto and Zubrus put the rebound home.
As the period came to a close, the play that was symbolic of the game's Bizarro feel to it was the disallowed goal by the Islanders. With Parenteau and Grabner on the forecheck, Grabner was pushed by Mark Fayne while Grabner was near the goal crease. It didn't look like a hard push, but Grabner went sprawling into Brodeur, knocking Brodeur over and a shot by Parenteau easily went into the net. After a lengthy conference the center ice official and linesman spoke with the goalline judge and it was ruled that the Grabner had interfered enough with Brodeur to waive the goal off. It wasn't a hard push but I think Grabner was off balance enough to where the call could have gone either way. That said, if this game had happened in early December I am absolutely convinced that the goal would have counted.
I wasn't sure what to expect in the third period. Fights? More Goals? In the third period we saw some back-and-forth play. A little sloppy at times, but the Devils closed the Islanders out, and at around the 12 or 13 minute mark tightened up defensively and weren't going to let the Islanders get back into the game.
In the preview for this game John highlighted a few areas to watch for in today's game:
1. Getting off to a fast start-Two goals before the first TV timeout?
2. Being disciplined and not taking dumb penalties-Multiple too many men on the ice penalties are hard to justify. At least there weren't any dumb on-ice penalties taken.
3. Tighten up the play on both special teams units. The Devils killed off all three Islander power play opportunities and went 1 for 2 on the power play themselves.
I would say that the Devils certainly accomplished #1 and #3. Dumb penalties? That is still a work in progress.
Solid effort, but I will knock them down a grade for some sloppy play in the third period and some mental lapses that led to the Islanders' two goals in the second period.
Led by the dynamic Tedenby the Devils put a lot of pressure on the Islanders. While a bit passive in the third period (the Corsi ratings wouldn't really scream a dominating effort) the forwards as a group played well. The ice time distributed pretty evenly through the group and from Tedenby through Pelley I think each player maximized their time out there.
One final note about Tedenby. Call me crazy but I think he deserves to be in the lineup next game.
He made some big saves, but wasn't forced to play spectacular because of the new high octane offense the Devils have. In the past few games he has now been afforded something he didn't have in the first half of the season. Breathing room.
After capturing 7 out of a possible 8 points and scoring 18 goals in the past four games the Devils will face a strong test on Thursday in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Rock.
Thanks for reading and thanks to those who commented in the gamethread. Let us know your thoughts on the game below!